Boy, am I a sucker for HD re-releases. Even though re-releasing the same games I bought 10 years is undeniably a cynical move, every time one of my favourite collections of games is released under the “HD Classics” banner it seems that the additions of HD visuals and trophies are enough to tide me over to giving up another £30 for that sweet, sweet taste of nostalgia. Most recently I have parted cash for the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, The Jak & Daxter HD Collection and the subject of today’s review The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy, a series of Playstation 2 platformers from Insomniac, the studio that would later be known for alien shooter Resistance.
Like any video game series, Ratchet & Clank has been steadily refined with each release to be the reliable source of platforming/3rd person shooting hybrid we know and love, and the R&C Trilogy are a great example of how game design can improve over time. After playing recent iterations of the franchise such as 2009′s A Crack In Time, the original game feels very primitive, the controls are loose and at times frustrating and the level design inconsistent, often repetitive. With that said, R&C deserves recognition for trying things that had not been done before, splicing together light platforming with creative weapon design, with some cheeky puzzle solving thrown in for good measure. This first game was praised for it’s colourful and cartoony visuals, that in HD and 60 frames per second, do still look pretty and the introduction of the series’ trademark humor Originally released in 2002, Ratchet & Clank is unfortunately an example of a stellar game for it’s time that has not aged well. While there are still fun times to be had here, if you are looking for a platforming romp on par with more recent titles you may want to look elsewhere.
Ratchet & Clank 2 is in some respects, two steps forward and one step back. This is the game that introduced weapon and armour upgrades, that gave you more of an incentive to use a variety of weapons rather than sticking to the reliable blaster and rocket launcher. A focus was put on collecting bolts (this universe’s currency) to acquire as many weapons as possible as the difficulty of enemies would scale quite considerably, the further you progress. The controls are noticeably tighter, the strafe mechanic is a life saver that makes the shooting a whole lot more natural and enjoyable. While the simple gameplay mechanics are addictive and polished, it still suffers from the same flaws as it’s predecessor; levels often feel repetitive and enemies are often overly tough, requiring 9 rockets to destroy and the platforming too basic, not offering the variety and creativity of games like Super Mario Galaxy.
Where the trilogy really shines is the final game in the collection Ratchet & Clank 3 (In America known as Up Your Arsenal, I guess over here that sounded too much like “Up Your Arse”). With many tweaks made to the core mechanics, 3 feels like the best parts of the first two parts with the fat trimmed. There are upgrades galore, weapons can be upgraded 5 times, 10 if you count the Omega upgrades unlocked after you finish the game as well as armor and health upgrades. Each weapon has a specific use and the unnecessary ones are cut, with the possible exception of The Infector. The combat is more satisfying, enemies are not needlessly tough, but still keep you on your toes, however the AI is still rather slow. The controls are tighter than ever and the visuals are so colourful and vibrant they practically pop off the screen (especially if you have the 3D mode turned on). The writing is the best it’s ever been and is genuinely laugh out loud funny in more than one occasion (especially when series staple Captain Qwark is interacting with his monkey friend Scrunch); there’s a good reason why bumbling villain Dr. Nefarious has been a recurring character ever since his introduction here. Flaws are still present, the levels can sometimes drag and turn into a plateau of destruction but the quicker pace of this game means that you rarely get bored. This game also features the addition of online play, a welcome distraction from the single player campaign. Ratchet and Clank 3 is a game evolved from the best elements of it’s predecessors and despite some small niggles, earns a place as one the best platformers on the Playstation 2.
For hardcore fans of the Ratchet franchise or fans of the Playstation 3 titles who wish to find out more about the series’ roots, this collection is well worth the price tag and gets a recommendation from me, but be prepared for flaws that are more noticeable with age. For anyone not familiar with the franchise I would recommend they play the Playstation 3 games (Tools of Destruction and A Crack In Time) before delving into this collection but for fans, The Ratchet & Clank trilogy is an enjoyable trip down memory lane.